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Rooting characteristics of two widely distributed woody plant species growing in different karst habitats of southwest China

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Abstract

A series of studies claimed that deep root development of plant established in karst regions was facilitated by fractured bedrock beneath the shallow soils; however, bedrock is not a uniform medium for root proliferation. We hypothesized plant species that survived in different karst habitats had some other rooting characteristics rather than deep penetration. To test the hypothesis, coarse root systems of two widely distributed woody species (one tree and one shrub) growing in three typical rocky karst habitats (shallow soil, loose rocky soil and exposed rock) were excavated in karst region of southwest China. Root systems were investigated based on four parameters: maximum rooting depth, maximum radial extent, root tapering pattern and root curvature. In all the three habitats, maximum rooting depths were no deeper than 120 and 40 cm for the tree and shrub species, respectively. Maximum radial extents were extremely large compared with maximum rooting depth, indicating that rooting characteristics were dominated by horizontal extension rather than deep penetration. Roots of both species growing in shallow soil habitat tapered gradually and curved slightly, which was consistent with the specific characteristics of this habitat. On the contrary, roots of the tree species growing in the other two habitats tapered rapidly but curved slightly, while roots of the shrub species tapered gradually but curved strongly. It was speculated that limited depths and rapid tapering rates of the tree roots were likely compensated by their utmost radial extensions, while the shrub species might benefit from its root curvature as the associated root tropisms may increase the ability of root to encounter more water and contribute to potentially high resource absorption efficiency. Our results highlight the importance of taking shallow-rooted species into account in understanding the distribution of natural plant communities and predicting future vegetation dynamics in karst regions.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences Action Plan for Development of Western China (KZCX2-XB3-10), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41171187 and 31100294), the “Western Light” Program of Talent Cultivation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Knowledge Innovation Program (ISACX-LYQY-QN-1201) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. We thank Magdeline Laba for checking the English of this paper.

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Correspondence to Hong-song Chen.

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Communicated by K.-F. Cao.

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Nie, Yp., Chen, Hs., Wang, Kl. et al. Rooting characteristics of two widely distributed woody plant species growing in different karst habitats of southwest China. Plant Ecol 215, 1099–1109 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-014-0369-0

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